For the first time since France 1998, Costa Rica will miss out on representing the North, Central and Caribbean Zone (CONCACAF) at a FIFA World Cup™. Los Ticos, despite leading the final round of qualifying in the region for months on end, suffered a dramatic late collapse and were beaten in a two-legged play-off by Uruguay.
While it’s time for Costa Rican fans and players to rue what might have been, neighbours Honduras are in celebratory mood after booking passage to their first FIFA World Cup since 1982, joining old-timers Mexico and USA at the competition's 19th edition. FIFA.com takes a look back at 16 action-packed months of preliminary action in the New World.
Big two on top
USA and Mexico – the undisputed 'big two' of the region – finished predictably at the top of the final six-team hexagonal round. The Stars and Stripes claimed bragging rights by finishing in first place with 20 points, while Mexico overcame a disastrous patch midway through the competition to rebound and finish just one slim point behind their arch-rivals. Both sides benefited from their home form, winning or drawing all of their games on familiar fields. Mexico were indebted to the return of old coach Javier Aguirre, who replaced Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson in April 2009, and the fine play of veteran Cuauhtemoc Blanco down the final stretch. The Americans, for their part, were a steady outfit and coach Bob Bradley managed to get the best out of his array of stand-outs like Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley and young goal hero Jozy Altidore.
Catracho late show
The Hondurans, powerful and fast-moving, left it late to book passage to their first FIFA World Cup since Spain 1982. After an impressive campaign that saw them beat mighty Mexico, Reinaldo Rueda’s men seemed to stumble at the final hurdle, setting up a tense final day in the hexagonal. Losing to the Americans at home in their penultimate match, a goal from veteran forward Carlos Pavon in a 1-0 win in El Salvador, combined with a late collapse by Costa Rica in the USA, sent Los Catrachos back to the promised land. In this football-mad Central American country – suffering its fair share of political instability – the win was a tonic, and richly deserved. The dynamic play of Amado Guevara, Wilson Palacios and Pavon could well make the Hondurans a team to watch in next year’s finals.
After cheerful qualification for their first-ever world finals at Germany 2006, Trinidad and Tobago looked a shadow of that side in the most recent qualifying round. With an aging squad and a coaching change midway through that saw old hero Russell Latapy take over from Franciso Maturana, the T&T boys never looked comfortable and failed to put much together in the way of free-flowing football. In the end, they managed only six points from their ten final round matches, scoring ten goals while conceding a whopping 22. The campaign must finally signal the end of the playing road for Latapy and old legend Dwight Yorke, both of whom were still in the squad list during the final round.
Costa Rican qualified for Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006, and they looked set to the repeat the dose this time around. Leading the hexagonal for months at the start, Los Ticos suffered a stretch in August and September 2009 in which they lost three in a row, conceding eight goals and scoring zero. The dip in form led to the sacking of coach Rodrigo Kenton, but with little time to implement his plans, new man Rene Simoes failed to right the ship. After leading USA 2-0 in their last hexagonal contest, they surrendered the final automatic qualifying place to Honduras after a late fightback. And after losing their opening play-off leg at home to Uruguay in San Jose, their valiant 1-1 draw in Montevideo simply was not enough to see them through.
Stars of the show
Mexico were indebted to the effervescent attacking play of Giovani dos Santos and speedy winger Andres Guardado. Captain Rafa Marquez showed his age a bit, but turned up big after returning from a serious knee injury. The return from retirement of Cuauhtemoc Blanco can not be underestimated in Aguirre’s team either, as he rolled back the years to help inspire El Tri late in the campaign. For USA, Jozy Altidore finished top scorer and was backed ably by fine play in midfield from Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley, while Tim Howard was his usual sparkling self between the posts. Honduras’s charge to the finals was aided invaluably by playmaker Guevara, all-rounder Palacios and old striking gem Pavon, while Costa Rica’s Bryan Ruiz has shown himself a real star in the making.
What they said
“This is unforgettable, we're so happy, we can't find the words to describe how we feel. It was tough going but Honduras deserve it. We were dejected, then we suddenly saw the fans celebrating in the stands. We wondered what was going on, then we found out that the North Americans had equalised. We just started running around and celebrating as we deserved to go to the World Cup.” Carlos Pavon of Honduras on a wild final day of qualifying.
0 – The number of home games lost by USA and Mexico in their South Africa 2010 qualifying campaigns, proving beyond a shadow of doubt that there’s no place like home in the CONCACAF Zone.
10 – Rudis Corrales (SLV)
7 – Luton Shelton (JAM)
7 – Carlos Pavon (HON)
6 – Ali Gerba (CAN)
6 – Jozy Altidore (USA)
6 – Alvaro Saborio (CRC)
6 – Bryan Ruiz (CRC)
6 – Carlos Costly (HON)
6 – Eliseo Quintanilla (SLV)